Out of Boxes
In a classic piece of cinematic genius, a camera scans the catalog department of a petroleum jelly factory. The boss of that outfit sits behind his desk, and we hear him repeating the same elements of his side of a conversation. “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job.” Pause. “I’m not arguing that with you.” Pause. “Did I say that? If I said that, I would have been wrong.” Pause. He loops with those statements over and again in any given order. As he speaks, the camera makes its way to the items on Mr. Waturi’s desk. The centerpiece is an Artificial Testicles Prototype.
The pair of small, translucent white balls are what men are taught rely upon, what real men have or need, and what women must grow in order to make their way in a man’s world. At least those are the messages I’ve received, and even used, over the course of my life. As young as late grade school years, phrases like brass balls, grow a pair of balls, she keeps a pair of balls, and balls of steel were not uncommon things to hear.
These mentions were usually in the context of someone having a lot of nerve, someone needing to find some nerve, someone acquiring moxie, or someone having no moxie. And as I grew older, I heard it regarding women and how a woman must procure a pair of testicles in order that she could hold her own, so to speak, in a man’s world.
In church culture, we don’t publicly or openly use that kind of vernacular, but we do point out the absence of male qualities in a strange, yet similar, way. We come in through a more appropriate door. We say things like, “Women are more emotional, so it would be difficult for them to withstand corporate pressure or lead an entire organization.” Or, “Let’s not use feeling words, as feelings are not reliable, and that’s distracting.” Or, “She’s too sensitive.” When we are slightly less appropriate, we might say, in a whisper behind the hand, “She must be on her period.”
I recognize that the intention with the use of these phrases for women, and for some men who don’t fit the man’s man schema, is to be a lighthearted way of communicating our differences. The direct forms and the less direct forms aren’t meant to offend. They are harmless. And perhaps so, generally speaking.
A generous take assumes what we mean by delineating—by noticing a woman using a kind of strength to speak up for herself or by esteeming the emotional expression of a woman—is that there are indeed differences. We weren’t created the same. The feminine nature brings a distinct beauty to the world, and we wish to honor that as sacred.
But what if the underlying message is perpetuating a derogatory and dehumanizing mindset? What if the objectification and diminishment of women is fed by seemingly innocuous terms? What if asking a woman to be less like a woman fuels implicit biases? What if telling the story like that takes away the very sacredness we wish to protect and honor?
When we put males in a box that requires them to access and rely on their centralized manhood, we reduce them in numerous ways to masturbatory machines. We feed narratives that dictate a man’s primary role to be conqueror and authority figure. We spell out a self-fulfilling prophecy for the men in our culture. We teach them to live as dis-integrated people.
When we ask females to be female in a specified manner, when we require them to be just and only the right amounts of pretty and bold and smart, they become moldable objects for our comparison and critique. We feed narratives that dictate a woman’s primary role to be demure and submissive. We spell out a self-fulfilling prophecy for women in our culture. We teach them to live as dis-integrated people.
Are my observations always true everywhere, the whole blanket covering every person and pocket? No. Of course not. But I do believe we can do better than we are. I do believe that we are asked, for such a time as this, to participate in some intentional and even hard work toward healthier, more complete, more life-giving conversations around women and men.
What if small, deliberate shifts in our language could transform our minds and bring liberation? I use the corporate we, because the derisive and misogynistic comments and tones toward women hail from women as well as men. What if we paid attention, noticed when it is happening, acknowledged that it is real?
What if we didn’t rely on a set of testicles as a symbol of strength for males and a requirement for females? What if we allowed women to be at the board table or in the executive seat or primary bread winners as capable women, not women who had to stifle their natures and become like the dominant males in the room?
What if the beauty of our physical anatomy in its design and function was not a weapon, but a sacred gift? What if our minds and spirits were given as much attention as our bodies, if our bodies weren’t separated from our minds and spirits? What if we trusted that when God created us God said it was good? What if, and especially if the love of Jesus is as real to us as we profess, we interacted with one another as if each is infinitely loved by that same Jesus?
Mr. Waturi’s prized centerpiece of the Artificial Testicles Prototype is just the thing to symbolize our heightened, though misplaced, allegiance to man-made strength. We are, as Mr. Waturi held the prototype spheres in his hand as he repeated the same things over and over again, held captive by repetitive and incomplete conversations. I believe we were made for more than this.